Alex Yankowsky isn’t a globetrotter or an island hopper. He doesn’t star on any reality shows and isn’t targeted by the paparazzi in PA. Yet, this Philadelphia resident recently felt the need to grab a last-minute Saturday night flight into Chicago— returning on a Monday morning red-eye.
This won’t be the first whirlwind trip for Yankowsky and it certainly won’t be his last. With one glaring exception, he’s been to every Chicago Blues Festival since 1994. He’s crashed on friend’s floors, slept in airports and has helped boost the nightly take of every local bar that sells his beloved Old Style.
But this quick trip to the Windy City was more than quaffing local brews. For Yankowsky, and many other music lovers, Sunday, February 17 was a red-letter night reserved for raising funds for a local blues legend. That would be Eddie C. Campbell who is currently in Germany undergoing intensive neurotherapy after suffering a heart attack and a stroke while on tour there. His insurance is not valid in Germany and he will eventually need supervised air transport back to the United States.
As “Chicago’s Friendliest Blues Club,” Rosa’s Lounge on Armitage served as the proverbial Ground Zero for an incredible night of blues fellowship that was one that fans like Yankowsky will never forget. And with a long list of blues luminaries showing up at Rosa’s to play—or simply pay tribute to Campbell—the evening served as a fitting reminder that this is one musical community that does not forget its own.
Blues scholar and Dominican University Professor, Dr. Janice Monti was not surprised by the enthusiastic turnout on the 73-year old Campbell’s behalf. She noted that, “the blues community is really special” and added “there is a tremendous sense of heritage and the musicians want to show their respect” for a blues musician of Eddie C. Campbell’s caliber.
The respect resonated all the way to Campbell’s bedside near Dusseldorf, Germany as the event was streamed live on Gigity TV. Emcee Dick Shurman frequently cajoled the crowd of fans, friends and fellow musicians to shout “We Love You Eddie” throughout the course of the evening. They were only too happy to oblige Campbell’s longtime record producer and “brother.”
While Shurman served as the evening’s emcee, he deferred to “referee and head organizer,” blues singer Deitra Farr as "the power behind the throne.” Farr, along with Monti and bassist Ilaria Lantieri were the trio that first set the benefit wheels in motion. When it came to show time, Farr was instrumental in organizing the steady parade of music makers who came ready to play and help “bring Eddie home.”
Many in the audience, like Jean Vetrovec of Naperville, marveled at the assemblage of “blues royalty” that streamed in and out of Tony Mangiollo’s iconic club. The long list of musicians who donated their time, talents and the $25 cover charge included Billy Boy Arnold, Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Shaw, Lurrie Bell, Sugar Blue, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Deitra Farr, Bob Stroger, Rico McFarland, Zora Young, Matthew Skoller, Billy Branch, Sharon Lewis, Ilaria Lantieri, Scott Dirks, Willie Buck and several others.
Other musicians such as Mud Morganfield, James Wheeler and John Primer enjoyed a busman’s holiday as they stopped in to drop off their donation and mill around the club. Blues fan Rebecca Malone of London was thrilled when Morganfield posed for a photo with her and her mum. As for Yankowsky, he said that the high point of his night was hearing Lurrie Bell doing “Sweet Little Angel.” He added that, “it has been one of my favorite songs ever since I heard the Robert Nighthawk album when I was 19.”
In addition to being such a feel good night for fans and musicians alike, the benefit achieved many of its goals in terms of raising funds and publicizing the need to bring Eddie C. Campbell home with a medical escort or air ambulance. But there’s still much that needs to be done. You can see the concert in its entirety via the link below. The site also includes a Pay Pal link that allows you to easily contribute to the Eddie C. Campbell Assistance fund.